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Thomas Heberer
The Day That Is
Sunnyside SSC 1637

The remarkable events of the past two years have disrupted the world’s socio-political landscape. When the pandemic struck, trumpeter, improviser, and composer Thomas Heberer took the opportunity to compose and coordinate the recording of his new album, The Day That Is, while sequestered in his New York City apartment. An established member of the creative music scene in both the US and Europe, Heberer’s open approach to the jazz tradition has been well-documented as a member of the ICP Orchestra and the Nu Band. The past few years however, have seen him draw inspiration from bebop, post-bop, and the New Thing as often as the free music he is commonly associated with.

For this project Heberer returns to a format he worked with in the 1990s group Tome XX – a two-horn, piano-less quartet. Heberer first heard drummer Michael Sarin in the ‘90s with the late, great Thomas Chapin; a regular performing partnership began when Heberer joined Sarin in the faculty at Maine Jazz Camp. The trumpeter got to know bassist John Hébert as a fellow member of Angelica Sanchez’s Nonet and eventually called on fellow German expat and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock to round out the quartet. Heberer has known Laubrock for years; both arrived in New York over a decade ago, and are recipients of the SWR-Jazz Prize, Germany’s jazz musician of the year award.

The Day That Is was conceived just before the pandemic but was accelerated once touring schedules came to a halt. After some December rehearsals, where they socially distanced and covered horns with bell-covers, the quartet decamped to the Samurai Hotel studio on January 6th, unaware of the events about to unfold at the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The group remained focused while recording, only realizing the magnitude of the insurrection afterwards.

Showcasing Heberer’s breadth as a composer, the program begins with the title track, a compact, polyphonic swinger featuring exploratory horn solos. “Erg Chebbi” unfolds as an exotic Eastern travelogue, while the free-form ballad “Seconds First,” inspired by Andrew Hill, deconstructs a lush melody. Further inspirations and dedications abound: named for the German composer, the frenetic “Caro Pook” highlights Sarin’s kinetic drumming; the shadowy “Jimi Metag” is dedicated to a departed friend; and using two contrasting scores to pit horns against rhythm section, “One for Roy” was written for the late trumpeter Roy Campbell, who Heberer replaced in the Nu Band. Similarly complex, “Then There Were Three” features three different parts and an extended drum solo. Likewise, “Mapping the Distance” is a vehicle for Sarin and Laubrock, whose melodic lines follow delightful detours. Eschewing complexity, harmony comes to the fore on “The Sleeping Bag Unfolds,” which braids a plangent melody from Heberer’s trumpet and Laubrock’s soprano. Equally bittersweet, a brief coda, “The Sky Above,” concludes the program.

In opposition to the isolation of the global pandemic and political divisiveness, The Day That Is presents all-inclusive music shared and created together in unity.
–Troy Collins


Eric Hofbauer + Dylan Jack + Tony Leva + Jerry Sabatini
Period Pieces
Creative Nation CNM040

Boston-trained guitarist Eric Hofbauer cuts a broad swath through modern music since 1890: lassoing Satie, Nico, Waylon Jennings, and “Old Man River” into a 2002 solo record; playing Ives, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and Ellington’s elegy “Reminiscing in Tempo” in a memorable series of albums with his “Prehistoric Jazz” chamber quintet. Nowadays he also runs the jazz and contemporary music department at Bard’s Longy School. Hofbauer balances the serious and playful, and he gets an appealingly chunky, spiky acoustic guitar sound like the pre-amplified masters: he doesn’t lean on the signifiers but the (percussive) blues esthetic runs deep.

This co-op date ropes in frequent Boston buds; Holfbauer and bassist Tony Leva play in drummer Dylan Jack’s quartet; trumpeter Jerry Sabatini was in Eric’s chamber quintet. The (lightly groove-oriented) music, recorded en masse in March 2021 when everyone was tired of solo woodshedding, was improvised in the studio and then sculpted in post-production, in a mostly lowkey way: better entrances and exits for the players, cleaner starts and stops, deleted longueurs between episodes, maybe some light sonic treatments. They take a cinematic approach – mise-en-scene and montage: it’s about the quality of ensemble performance in the room, and how you cut it, to enhance a mood, or sharpen a point.

Teo Macero pointed the (silent) way with early electric Miles: most effective when you don’t make the tidying-up too obvious. There are some general resemblances to electric Miles here and there, where trumpeter Sabatini injects pithy lines bathed in reverb over a bubbling stew of rhythm, notably on the rich “Awake-Again.” (That said, when he pops in the Harmon mute on same, his sound is more his own, not least when he plungers with it). Happily, Hofbauer’s guitar sonorities keep the music from sounding directly imitative, and Leva and Jack don’t default to funk – their beat has more bounce to it. The quartet sound is more garage-band Bitches Brew, shambling early on “Galumphing Demons.” You can spot other precursors in Sabatini’s lean sound: plungering Bubber Miley, pithy Don Cherry, Lester Bowie and Wadada Leo Smith (just as the first part of “Rational Instability” sounds more Yo Miles! than Miles). Hofbauer’s animating, riff/vamp/melody that kicks off “Awake-Again” is in ascending fourths, a melodic strategy straight from the Wayne-era Miles playbook. But again, putting that line on heavy-picked acoustic-sounding guitar changes everything.

There’s space in the music; nobody minds laying out a spell. Silence is also a choice. There’s no guitar on “Restlessness,” a trumpet-bass duet the drummer sneaks into for the second half. In quartet, Leva is the rare bass player who doesn’t have to keep something going all the time – someone has to leave those spaces after all. Jack’s solo on “Finding Baraka” is likewise spacious and expectant: the parade drummer waiting to exit the cemetery and hit the street.

Guitar technology being what it is, one can simulate a roomful of vintage axes on a single instrument, but Hofbauer’s sound remains hollow-body at its core, even where he works the distortion pedals. Passim, he’ll play mbira-like rhythm figures on the low frets, or snake something between the strings near the bridge, to get a snapping timbre, and throw the scale slightly out of whack. The instant trumpet ballad “With a Purpose” with brushes on snare and custom-sculpted guitar tones behind, is saved from ECM prettiness by a little timbral dirt in the corners. (Hofbauer and Leva are also credited with unspecified electronics.)

Post-production tinkering with improvised music raised eyebrows when Miles and Teo did it, back when; to the old school, jazz records were audio verité documents, not constructions like pop albums. We heard less about such tinkering as common practice later, in jazz anyway, but it continued, crudely or subtly. For example: In the 1970s, Misha Mengelberg aggressively edited live tapes for the ICP album Tetterettet, chopping off a head or solo; splicing one tune’s introduction onto another; repeating a previously heard section or drum tattoo; cutting up, looping and reconstructing a cello solo. Then Amsterdam engineer Dick Lucas started editing ICP improvisations with more polish and aplomb. I got to work with him in the mid-1990s, editing a couple of compilations drawn from the Bimhuis’s 1991 October Meeting. He was micro-meticulous – this piece would flow better if we cut this 20 seconds. But the end result had to sound plausible, seamless, in character, the context preserved. (That 20 seconds eventually went back in.)

He wasn’t the only one at it, of course – David Torn comes to mind. But nowadays the practice is a jazz rage: the age of Makaya McCraven-ization, when jazz interviewers knowingly reference Pro Tools. With live music in (fitful) long-term hiatus, it figures more and more improvised music gets buffed up in tranquility. Futzing at home is the sound of jazz 2020-2021. Period Pieces’ open musical space, the reverby landscape, builds in social distance. The tinkering is deft. Trying to figure out what’s real-time action and what’s post-doctored re-poses the tired old question, how much is improvised, and how much composed? (There’s a dense tooth-grinding arco bass episode near the end of “Restlessness” I keep coming back to.) It does focus a curious listener on the moment-to-moment sound.
–Kevin Whitehead


James Brandon Lewis Quartet
Code Of Being
Intakt CD 371

Unusually for tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, someone so overflowing with ideas that new projects arise in rapid succession (on 2019’s An Unruly Manifesto he namechecks Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, and surrealism, while this year’s Jesup Wagon portrays the life and work of visionary polymath George Washington Carver), he returns to a format previously investigated. On Code Of Being, the second outing by his all star Quartet, Lewis further expands on the success of the outfit’s 2020 debut Molecular. As on its predecessor, Lewis showcases a compositional system inspired by parallels with the double helix of DNA. But unlike that album, this studio session contains fewer tracks in a longer running time, and as a result allows greater opportunity for his crew to really dig in. A liberty exploited to the max.

Lewis possesses one of the most soulful sounds among the forward lookers, drawing from Coltrane, Rollins, and Ware, to craft elegant well-balanced lines, just dripping with passion. His way of building a solo from repeated kernels, whether sweet, melancholy or just plain muscular, finds ready source material in these eight originals. His bandmates, pianist Aruán Ortiz, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer Chad Taylor (themselves a band under Ortiz’ leadership) completely buy into his methodology to the extent that the written themes can recur in different guise both as supporting gambit and as foundational underpinning for their own expression. Consequently, what’s going on in the background excites and intrigues almost as much as the foreground.

Ortiz’ finest moment comes on the Latin-infused middle section of the lengthy “Where is Hella,” where he invokes his Cuban heritage to unfurl dancing blue-tinged tales with his left hand, all the while holding onto a bass register phrase until finally releasing the resultant tension. But what might seem like fleeting throwaway touches – the swift mini glissandos partway through the anthemic “Resonance” or his saw-toothed spare backing on “Archimedean” – serve to create the feel of an integrated unit. Whether exploring the heartrending melodies at which Lewis excels, like “Every Atom Glows,” a luminous ballad where Jones does the heavy lifting in among the hushed dialogue, or the terse motif driven pieces like “Per 4,” which develops into a primal tattoo, with Lewis mixing falsetto wails and gruff honks amid his patient extrapolations on the basic figure, these are whole group efforts.

However Lewis’ connection with Taylor, who performs with the reedman in an established partnership on Radiant Imprints and Live In Willisau, as well as powering Jesup Wagon, resides at the heart of the foursome’s antics. The drummer has become one of the best in the business, and like Hamid Drake, imparts a pulse with endless variation without compromising one jot on momentum. Often his playing defies expectation, notably so on another ballad, the closing “Tessera” where, more agitated than might be anticipated, he pushes Lewis every inch of the way, when the easiest thing would have been to add sensitive cymbal accents. It’s symbolic of the outfit’s deepening understanding, which bodes well as Lewis’ agreement with Intakt Records will include at least one more Quartet date.
–John Sharpe


Jon Lundbom + Bryan Murray
Beats By Balto! Vol. 2
Chant Records CR2111JO

From Jane Ira Bloom and Mark Helias recording duets over the internet to Jon Irabagon making a solo album outside in the South Dakota wilderness, musicians have found creative solutions to practice their art in spite of the existential threat posed by the COVID pandemic. Add Jon Lundbom and Bryan Murray’s Beats By Balto! Vol. 2 to the growing list of intriguing and inspiring “COVID projects.” An outgrowth and evolution of Lundbom’s Big Five Chord band, the album is based on hip hop beats that Murray, aka Balto Exclamationpoint, constructed out of samples from Big Five Chord’s recordings. Lundbom wrote new tunes to the beats and then sent the music to several friends and colleagues who recorded new parts in their home studios. The result is a set of ten switchblade-sharp cuts that demonstrate that left-leaning jazz and hip hop cannot just coexist, but can thrive when brought together.

The album opens with “Battalions,” a remix of sorts of “Bring Forth the Battalions,” which first appeared on Big Five Chord’s Liverevil. Where the original was a loose, plodding march through caustic molasses, Murray slots the tune’s motivic ideas right into his marauding and prowling beat. Add in new solos from guitarist Nick Millevoi and Jon Irabagon on soprano and fresh bass lines from Moppa Elliott and the recipe is clear: reimagining highlights from Big Five Chord’s deep catalog in a way that both stays true to Lundbom’s aesthetic and finds a new way to realize it, all while transcending the logistical limitations posed by the pandemic. Several tracks set the table for saxophone workouts. “Beat Like This” could be a classic kick-clap snare beat from the 80s – all that’s missing is an emcee and a DJ scratching records. Murray and Irabagon engage in an angular game of tag. The beat drops out for Murray’s brawny tenor. Upon its reentry Matt Kanelos adds a layer of shimmering keys before Irabagon sends his f-mezzo into orbit. “Truck Gun” is built on a grimy, industrial beat that’s soaked in diesel and brake cleaner. In the wake of the serpentine tune, Murray and Irabagon go for each other’s necks, strangling each other as the beat grinds on. “Tears and Fists” has a more reserved, relaxed beat. It feels like stepping out of the maelstrom of the last two years to stop and have a beer or two while letting the crazy go on without you. The album also includes three interludes by Murray, which are complete productions with no new recordings. On “Big P” he chops and manipulates Lundbom’s old guitar solos, layering them over a 12/8-ish boom bap. The glitched-out “Cap’n Crunch” brings to mind Craig Taborn’s Junk Magic, and the glitches become more severe on “Weak Sauce,” as feral drum machines and sentient alarm clocks begin to take over the factory. The album closes with “Hot Shit,” another stomping, swaggering track with bad intentions. You can hear the voices of the damned on the wind.

While much of the music on Beats By Balto Vol. 2 is snarling, dark, and ominous (i.e., incredibly in tune with the moment), its creation and success points to the promise that we will not only find a way to live with and create through the pandemic, but that once we come out on the other side, our musical and cultural lives will be the better for it.
–Chris Robinson


10 10 10
Cuneiform Rune 492

Keith Tippett + Matthew Bourne
Discus 120CD

Mujician’s October 2010 UK tour celebrated Tony Levin’s 70th birthday. It proved to be their last, as the drummer died the next February. Recorded in the University of Bristol’s Victoria Room, 10 10 10 finds the quartet in full flight, unaware that their extraordinary 22-year run would soon end, abruptly and sadly. Each of their prior albums documents an evolving approach to ensemble improvisation, one that molded what became familiar and what remained thoroughly unexpected into bold long forms. They continued this trajectory on 10 10 10, resulting in music that simultaneously satisfies expectations and creates surprise.

Improvisation is very much the art of running far out on a limb and then, if necessary, finding a way to land on your feet. A prime example occurs just a few minutes into the title track, the first of two that clock in between 25 and 31 minutes. Levin jumpstarts the proceedings – a lot of drummers approximate Elvin Jones’ stick work, but Levin’s kick drum set him apart from most. It is an opening that Keith Tippett maximized repeatedly with Mujician, and the pianist’s searing runs and jabbed chords set up the foursome’s distinctive manner of burning down the house. Yet, instead of Paul Dunmall’s tenor and Paul Rogers’ 7-string bass entering to accelerate the blaze, Levin drops out, leaving Tippett to fend for himself. He deftly stutter-steps through the synapse, albeit with some suspense (a quality too often absent in improvised music). His counterparts enter, with Levin and Rogers churning rhythms, and Dunmall building deliberately, his Coltrane-inspired phrasing initially offset with flecks of Rollins and Rouse.

One aspect of long form improvisation Mujician mastered is the awareness that it is intrinsically episodic, and that is rarely obvious when and how the next transition presents, let alone where it will lead. “Remember” is a very good example, beginning with subdued lyricism and winding its way through a textured, inwardly focused Dunmall-Rogers duet before Tippett, then Levin, reenter, each ratcheting the intensity. But, again, instead of a wildfire, the quartet repeatedly sub-divides, exploring space and color. Tippett’s preparations are particularly effective in a pensive exchange with Dunmall. Inevitably, the quartet reconvenes at points, but always to prod the music in an unexpected direction. The ending is fittingly poignant in this regard, as the quartet coalesces textures that hover like fog before fading into silence.

Tippett made satisfying recordings with other pianists – duos with Stan Tracey and Howard Riley, as well as a three-piano studio date with Riley and John Tilbury. Aeolian stands shoulder to shoulder with them, and Matthew Bourne proves to be a worthy successor to Tippett’s prior collaborators. A two-disc collection comprised of nine studio tracks recorded in July 2019, and an extended concert performance from Tippetts’ last tour in October 2019, Aeolian is a study of contrasts joined by intense focus. Tippett and Bourne have different approaches to the piano’s interior, Tippett preferring placing objects on the strings, while Bourne directly manipulates them – the deep twang when he pulls a bass string is initially startling. They also differ in their readiness to commit to materials implying specific melodic and harmonic contours; Tippett being more so than Bourne, who noticeably takes a wait-and-see stance at times. Yet, there are many moments when the two pianists are palpably all in, and the resulting music is captivating. Additionally, at the end of the studio session, Tippett plays a short, lovely solo brimming with sumptuous harmonies, bluesy flourishes, and deep lyricism, an apt reminder that jazz was at his core.

Both recordings were issued just before the Keith Tippett Celebration in Bristol at the beginning of October. It may be a long time before the many brilliant performances of those two days are issued, if at all. In the meantime, Tippett’s legacy is well served by 10 10 10 and Aeolian.
–Bill Shoemaker


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